Why it’s great that the Halo TV series has a Silver timeline

Halo second season
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A new blogpost on Halo Waypoint talks about the upcoming Halo live-action TV series on Paramount+, and has some interesting details about the show’s “Silver Timeline”. The series will draw from much of the narrative and worldbuilding of Halo’s deep lore, while diverging where necessary in ways to fit the differences between live action and interactive gaming as media.

It’s a smart creative choice that recognizes the differences between writing for games and for TV shows, and how each can play to different storytelling strengths, as well as the pitfalls in trying to reconcile lore beats envisaged for games into a film medium and vice versa. 343 Industries franchise creative director Frank O’Connor notes:

“…there were some real dangers of mapping a totally different medium – games – to a linear narrative format, TV or movie for that matter. Not just because of the differences in approach and perspective that make sense for each medium, but also because we want to make sure that we’re not forcing either the game or the show to go in completely unnatural directions.”

“By the same token, Halo’s core canon is extremely important to us and our fans, and we wanted to think of the simplest and most productive way to make sure we didn’t ‘break’ either medium by trying to force square pegs into round holes.”

The “Silver Timeline,” named after the show’s Fireteam Silver, will take existing characters, history, and lore from the core universe, and remix it or make subtle changes to better suit a TV series format. The Halo TV show’s Silver Timeline is very much its own beast: a parallel timeline distinct from that of the games. It can draw from Halo’s worldbuilding, without being slavishly beholden to every little detail. 

Halo’s lore can have its own inconsistent messes. The Fall of Reach prequel novelization, first released in 2001, was revised and rereleased in 2010 in light of the Halo: Reach prequel game, but instead created new inconsistencies, forcing the release of another “Definitive Edition” a year later. A fresh, parallel timeline is probably a good thing, giving the Silver Timeline team room to tell “A Halo story” without having to be “THE Halo story,” with space to welcome new viewers and fans who aren’t immersed in Halo lore, while giving lorehounds some unexpected twists and new ways to tell a familiar tale.

Case in point? The blog post notes that the Master Chief and Cortana’s “stumbling” across the Halo rings in the first episode won’t be a random occurrence as it appeared in the original Halo: Combat Evolved, and will explore the early years of the children who would become Spartan II’s, as well as a few who broke away from the Spartan program.

Along the way, the Halo Waypoint blog post also takes a few oblique shots at how other entertainment franchises have handled the canonicity of tie-in media and the consistency headaches that can create.

“Taking steps to develop a complex hierarchy to ‘grade’ the canonicity of elements of the show was obviously not desirable, and so having two distinct branches – core canon and the Silver Timeline – allows them to be clearly distinct and self-contained, without friction that might affect the grand, compelling universe we’ve come to know and love over the last two decades.

Exploring the themes, characters, and events of the Halo universe with this new lens enabled us to ensure that neither core canon nor the television show had to be constrained, distorted, or retconned, instead opening greater possibilities and providing clarity of intent that would have otherwise led Halo fans to develop specific expectations about what would be ‘loyally’ adapted and what wouldn’t.”

All this being said, this isn’t an unexpected writing and production move, but it is interesting that 343 Industries is making it a point to name and create a separate identity for TV timeline, implying a branding commitment that might be interesting to see if the series takes off.  I don’t envy the job ahead for Halo fan wiki editors and fact checkers looking to separate core canon from the TV show’s Silver Timeline.

Halo TV Silver timeline

The post also wraps up with a few more previews of the series, from the first teaser trailer released at the game awards to a look at Natascha McElhone’s portrayal of Dr. Catherine Halsey, the “mother” of the Spartan program.

The Halo live action series will premiere on Paramount+ in Q1 2022, with the big reveal trailer scheduled for Sunday, January 30 at the AFC Championship game on CBS and Paramount+.